Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Royal British Legion: leave us out of Union flag storm

The Union flag flying at the cenotaph in the grounds of Belfast City Hall last November
The Union flag flying at the cenotaph in the grounds of Belfast City Hall last November

The Royal British Legion is to reject a controversial proposal to fly the Union flag every day at the cenotaph at Belfast City Hall.

The Belfast Telegraph understands its objection is based on major concerns that the area dedicated to Ulster's war dead would become politicised.

The submission by the legion will be included in a crunch equality impact report on the controversial flag issue due to be brought before a council committee tomorrow.

The Telegraph can reveal, in the embargoed report, the British Legion has written to the council, "as the nation's custodians of remembrance" saying that remembrance "should unite, not divide", "should not be politicised", and that it is "therefore opposed to the Garden of Remembrance becoming involved in the flags debate" and "cannot agree to any change in the policy for flag-flying at the cenotaph". A number of church groups have written expressing similar positions.

The proposal to erect the Union flag over the cenotaph permanently was introduced by the DUP following a vote last year to limit the number of days it could fly over the City Hall.

But with the full council set to reject the DUP motion, concerns have been raised that tensions within the City Hall could be raised once more over the contentious issue of symbols.

The decision by the council in December not to fly the Union flag from City Hall all year round led to street protests which blocked roads and caused massive disruption.

The spiralling violence cost millions of pounds in policing and lost trade to businesses, and prompted scores of arrests.

The cenotaph proposal, introduced by DUP councillor Lee Reynolds in December, is supported by unionists.

An equality screening was carried out on the issue and is due to be presented to the council's policy and resources committee tomorrow.

But a council source told the Belfast Telegraph: "The Royal British Legion aren't in favour of it flying."

"They have made a submission to the consultation – and were not in favour."

Another council source said: "The British Legion didn't want to be involved in it (the motion) and wanted it to be left the way things were – no change."

It is one of a number of submissions contained in the report. It is understood the advice is that there would be equality issues if the flag flew daily a the cenotaph.

The proposal is set to be rejected by Sinn Fein, Alliance and SDLP councillors due to "equality issues" in the report.

At a meeting of a diversity sub group on Tuesday, Alliance members indicated they were not going to support the motion.

The Royal British Legion was not available for comment.

The DUP has said it is not commenting publicly on the matter at this stage.

A unionist source, however, said they have been left "frustrated" as they were led to believe Alliance would have backed the motion.

"We are frustrated the Alliance Party has gone back on its word and that a possible path out of this situation has been significantly disrupted," the source said.

The matter will be officially discussed on Friday during the policy and resources committee.

Any decision will have to be ratified by a full council, which is due to meet on May 7.

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